The smoky one-alarm blaze that killed two decorated firefighters Friday in Port Richmond turned into a criminal case yesterday when police charged a resident with murder and with running a marijuana-growing operation in the house where the firefighters were killed.
Police said Daniel Brough, 35, had haphazardly rigged up equipment in the basement of the rented house on the 3600 block of Belgrade Street. The plants were intensely heated, creating an environment ripe for fire, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said at a news conference yesterday.
>> First Report: Two Philadelphia Firefighters Die Fighting House Blaze
Capt. John Taylor, 53, of Northeast Philadelphia, and firefighter Rey Rubio, 42, of North Philadelphia, were trapped in the basement and later died of asphyxiation, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.
Fire officials said Rubio's air pack may have gotten entangled in a web of wires feeding electricity to the marijuana operation. Firefighters said Taylor refused to leave Rubio's side.
Both firefighters were assigned to Engine Company 28 in Port Richmond, one of eight engine and ladder companies the city plans to close to save money. Mayor Street ordered all firehouses to drape black bunting on their doors and fly their flags at half-staff out of respect for the fallen firefighters.
At Engine 28, a steady flow of Port Richmond residents dropped off flowers, baked goods, sandwich platters and sympathy cards.
"To our beloved heroes and saviors," read a note signed by the Gallagher family. "Thanks for saving our lives."
Friday began as a routine night at the station, with Taylor's platoon reporting for duty at 6 p.m. and ordering pizza for dinner. They had just finished eating and were getting ready to watch the Eagles-Baltimore Ravens preseason game when the call came in about 8 p.m., said firefighter Walter Milewski, who drove the truck Taylor took to the scene.
"When we first got there, it didn't look different from any other fire," said firefighter Robert Myers, a pump operator from one of the assisting stations. "It just seemed to be taking awfully, awfully long."
The house was smoky, but its four occupants and their two dogs managed to get out. On the scene for about an hour, Taylor and Rubio went to the basement to figure out why the smoke wasn't lifting. That's when fire erupted and the men were trapped, fire officials said.
Taylor ordered a rookie to follow the hoses out of the basement while he stayed behind to help Rubio, according to firefighter Charles Sgrillo and Capt. Daniel Skala, close friends of Taylor and his family. Taylor pushed the distress button on his radio to indicate that he and Rubio were in trouble.
"He was the type of man who would give his life for you," Skala said. "And that's just what he did."
The deaths were the second and third among city firefighters this year. In January, Lt. Derrick Harvey, 45, died after he was critically burned at a one-alarm house fire in Logan.
Police said Brough was charged with two counts of third-degree murder, two counts of involuntary manslaughter, risking and causing a catastrophe, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Brough was awaiting arraignment last night at Police Headquarters.
The Fire Marshal's Office said the cause was combustible materials too close to electrical appliances. Fans, lights and heaters were running in the basement at the time.
Neighbors said Brough was a handyman who lived with his wife, stepson and mother. According to property records, Anthony V. and Mary Jane Frasco of Delran, Burlington County, own the house. Neighbors said Anthony Frasco is Brough's uncle.